Regional piracy not as dire

Late last month, robbers targeted a tanker near the Horsburgh Lighthouse, east of Singapore.

Around 4am, five men boarded the China-bound ship and tied up three crew members before getting away with their personal belongings.

This was not the only such case recently. There have been at least eight attacks on ships in waters around Singapore this year.

According to the live piracy reporting map from the International Maritime Bureau based in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, there were at least two dozen incidents reported in the waters around Singapore and Batam from January to October.

But a regional piracy-prevention group says the situation might not be that bad.

In its report, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) reflected only eight incidents in the same area during the same period.

Of these, only the attack near Horsburgh Lighthouse is classified as being "moderately significant", while the rest are petty thefts where some of the ship's cargo or spare parts were stolen.

ReCAAP said that even cases like the attack near the lighthouse cannot be considered as piracy.

Responding to queries from The New Paper, ReCAAP's deputy director Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Nicholas Teo said most of these attacks are opportunistic in nature, like vehicle break-ins on land.

Most of these robbers are non-confrontational and usually flee when spotted by the ship's crew. They target loose or unsecured items such as ropes, machine parts and even personal belongings.

Boat operators whom TNP spoke to said they have hardly encountered such incidents, which usually happen under the cover of darkness.

A boatman with 30 years of experience ferrying supplies to ships passing through Singapore waters said most attacks occur in waters closer to Batam.

'WON'T DARE'

"(The robbers) know that Singapore waters are closely patrolled by the (Police) Coast Guard, of course they won't dare to try anything here," said the boatman who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan.

"In Indonesia, there are so many small islands to hide. If we have to go out to sea at night, we try to be careful and stay near the busier areas," he added.

Mr Teo from ReCAAP said island clusters are like the back alleys of the sea, where there is little traffic and much space to hide. He said: "Where possible, such areas should be avoided, especially in the hours of darkness..."

He added that if ships have to travel in these waters, measures such as the employment of more lookouts and the maintenance of a good radar watch. should be taken.

SOME INCIDENTS THIS YEAR

1. JAN 8 Five men in camouflage uniforms approached a tug in a speedboat. Two men boarded the tug and took a crew member hostage, holding him down at knife point. But another crew member raised the alarm and gathered the rest of the crew. The two attackers were scared off and left without stealing anything.

2. JUNE 20 Five men armed with knives boarded an anchored LPG tanker. Three of them tried to break into the provision stores, while the rest entered the engine room. A crew member stumbled on the attackers and the men threatened him with a knife before escaping. Engine spares were later found stolen.

3. JULY 7 Four men armed with knives boarded a tanker during ship-to-ship transfer operation. Crew members spotted the men and raised the alarm. The men escaped in their boat.

4. OCT 6 Six men dressed in black were spotted onboard an anchored tanker trying to get to the crew's bunks. They were spotted by a crew member who raised the alarm. The men jumped overboard and escaped in a wooden boat.

lawsm@sph.com.sg


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